14 June 2017

Namibia: Govt Warns On Social Media Posts

Government officials must be careful of what they post on social media - even as private individuals - because the public might assume that the views are made in their professional capacity, a newly proposed policy says.

The Social Media Use Policy tabled in the National Assembly by information minister Tjekero Tweya last week will also make it mandatory for every state institution to set up social media accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp by the end of this month.

Facebook, Twitter and the messaging application WhatsApp have become popular for debating national issues, but it has also been a fertile ground for people spewing hate.

"Public servants and all employees working on behalf of government who use social media for strictly personal use outside of the workplace do not require approval to do so," the policy said.

"However, employees are reminded that as representatives of their offices, the above rules and guidelines must be taken into consideration when participating in these services at any time, but particularly when identifying themselves as public servants, or when the context might lead to that conclusion," the policy added.

The regulations do not explain possible punishment for those found contravening these rules, nor does it stipulate the disciplinary process to be followed.

The social media policy document will make it compulsory for government institutions to set up social media accounts of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, WhatsApp, blogs, LinkedIn and the Short Messaging Services (SMS) line by June 2017.

Each state body will be required to form web points of contact to serve as the primary point of accountability for the effective oversight and management of information shared on social media networks.

Media officials or public relations officials at each state institution will act as the go to person for that new body, the policy said.

The web points of contact who run the accounts should update those platforms every day by posting policies, laws, documents and statements of ministers, governors and other policymakers.

Government bodies are also obliged to provide feedback on questions raised on social media within 24 hours. Every state institution is also asked to encourage public dialogue, and should put up a disclaimer explaining that the government respects freedom of expression, and that people are entitled to different opinions, and hope to foster online conversations. According to the policy, social media comments are automatically published, but the state has the right to remove comments which are indecent, use foul language, threats, are defamatory or use personal attacks.

Comments which encourage illegal activities, hate speech directed at race, colour, gender, sex, identity, national origin, ethnicity, age, religion or disability, as well as tribalism and stereotyping will also be removed. The policy aims to provide guidelines on the use of social media by state entities to share information and provide a platform through which the government will engage citizens.

In addition, the rules aim to create a transparent, effective and efficient government in line with national development goals, such as President Hage Geingob's signature policy, the Harambee Prosperity Plan.

It is not clear whether this plan will be fully enforced, and what would happen to officials who fail to implement it. The government has a history of announcing plans that do not take off as planned.

For instance, the majority of government institutions continue to fail to update their websites and keeping up with technological advances.

The Office of the President currently stands out in terms of using platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. The Presidential website is also frequently updated, unlike those of other ministries, although the uploading of materials is sometimes delayed.

Some government websites have over the years become dormant and poorly designed. State websites also lack uniformity, unlike in South Africa where online government platforms have a similar design.


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